Erich Sommerfeldt is the first of his kind.
In the summer of 2011, Sommerfeldt successfully defended his dissertation, “Social Capital Networks of Media NGOs in Peru: A Public Relations Approach to Explicating Relationships in Civil Society,” and became the first person to earn a PhD from The University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism.
Sommerfeldt decided to attend OU after his “awesome mentor” and doctoral adviser, Dr. Maureen Taylor, accepted a faculty position in Gaylord. “I would not be where I am today without her,” Sommerfeldt claims.
In addition to Taylor’s mentorship, the financial support from Gaylord and his Alumni fellowship played a large part in his decision to pursue his doctoral studies at OU. While Sommerfeldt was accepted to another doctoral program, the financial support OU offered, as he put it drily, “allowed [him] to eat and have a place to live.” Travel funding from the Graduate and Gaylord Colleges enabled Sommerfeldt to travel to Peru to conduct interviews for his dissertation research as well as attend the 2010 International Communication Association Conference in Singapore.
Being part of a new, small program had downsides, Sommerfeldt said, but he considered it a very positive experience and received support and attention from faculty. Sommerfeldt also cited the unparalleled facilities of Gaylord, stating that, “OU is lucky to have the Gaylord family’s support… [Studying in the Gaylord College] is like working in a five-star hotel.”
Although he misses his OU colleagues and friends, Sommerfeldt has done quite well for himself since leaving Oklahoma – teaching undergraduate courses in Public Relations at Towson University in Maryland. He has accepted a position at the University of Maryland-College Park beginning in August 2012.
Reflecting on his experience at OU, Sommerfeldt offered words of wisdom for potential PhD students. “You have to be 100 percent sure,” he said. “You have to love what you’re doing and you have to work hard, and you have to love working hard.”